“The citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah were incredibly carnal, and the family of Abraham was not much better. Lot was abused by his daughters. Tamar was wronged by her father-in-law. Later, Reuben, the eldest son of Jacob, was cursed for his sexual fornication. While Joseph ran from temptation, Samson ran towards it.”
What is the church to do as her members struggle with sexual temptation and sin? How should the church respond as her family members long to see Magic Mike, Fifty Shades of Gray, or the latest edition of the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show? How should the body of Christ respond to her teenagers and college-age students who are hooking-up on line or in person? Today, as hard and soft pornography targets men and women, young and old, married or single, what ought the church to do? As the American culture changes and becomes more pagan, as marriage is less and less desirable, and as sexual exploration and liberty is highly vaunted, how should the church of Jesus Christ respond?
First, the church ought to recognize this is not new territory. The citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah were incredibly carnal, and the family of Abraham was not much better. Lot was abused by his daughters. Tamar was wronged by her father-in-law. Later, Reuben, the eldest son of Jacob, was cursed for his sexual fornication. While Joseph ran from temptation, Samson ran towards it. Pagan rulers had their harems, and Israel’s kings had their affairs. From Egypt, to Israel, to Persia, to Rome, ancient civilizations struggled with sexual temptation and sin as men do today. Rahab, Esther, and Solomon would all say, “There is nothing new under the sun.” From the beginning, sexual temptation and sin have run rampant in the world, and in the process they have plagued and damaged the household of faith.
Secondly, the church ought to recognize God’s wisdom in dealing with sexual temptation and sin. For thousands of years, God has been prescribing wisdom on this matter. Therefore, since the ancient words of Scripture are full of truth that is culturally relevant, the wise individual and congregation will take to heart the Word of God.
Therefore, with these thoughts in mind, 1 Corinthians 5 is worthy of being read and meditated upon:
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”
Within this passage, four principles are presented. How ought the individual Christian and the congregated church handle sexual temptation and sin?
1. Christians ought to be humble. Within the pages of Scripture one finds the Law of God. His stated will is for men and women to enjoy sexual relations with their spouse. Any sexual practice before marriage or outside the bounds of matrimony is either fornication or adultery. Additionally, any sexual thought outside of marriage is unrighteous lust. The immodest inciter and the impure thinker are both transgressors of God. However, in addition to the Law of God, within the pages of Scripture one finds the Person of God. He is angry at sin and with sinners everyday, and he changes not. According to the Bible, sexual sin is one of many sins that cause a person to be thrown into hell. And for those believers who are saved and redeemed from the eternal punishment they deserve, they still must realize they walk before a Heavenly Father who is angry at sin everyday. He promises loving discipline that is always improving but often painful. Therefore, the wise person ought not walk with arrogant disregard for God’s law and God’s person? Christians ought to be humble.
2. Christians ought to be sorrowful. After recognizing God’s standard and their sin, they ought to daily run to Christ and mournfully confess their transgressions. Christians should mourn over and hate their adultery, fornication, unrighteous lust, and immodesty. And when they do not hate such iniquity, when they still find sin forbidden, cute, and enticing, they should pray with fervency that the Holy Spirit might enable them to love righteousness and hate sin as they ought. Wise worshipers, struggling with sexual temptation and sin, ought to be humble and sorrowful.
3. Christians ought to be struggling in community. Sexual sin is nothing new, odd, or rare. Within the local congregation of Christ, men and women are found struggling with heterosexual and homosexual sin. Some have found victory over past struggles; some need to find it again. All around the worshiper are men and women who have been abused. In addition, within her pews, many are seated who have abused. The local church is the place for men and women to find support in their struggles for sexual sanctification. Therefore, the body of Christ should gather for teaching on this matter; sexual topics should not be avoided. (The world is not avoiding you and your family.) There is also a great need for men’s ministries, women’s ministries, and counseling ministries. Within the local church, personal accountability should be easy to find as individuals learn to confess their sins and express God’s grace one to another. Friends, the church is not the place for those who have found victory over sin. No, it is the place for those seeking to find victory over their sin. Glorification and total sanctification are on the horizon, but do not pretend for a moment that it is found within your church.
4. Christians ought to make wise judgments and separate. Scripture teaches believers to note, remove, and avoid places and promoters of temptation and sin. It is the Christian’s duty to flee youthful lust, run from sin, and sever any ties that encourage iniquity. However, not only are believers to separate from place and promoters of sin, they are also to separate themselves from persons who live arrogantly in sin, mourn not over their transgressions, and approve of those practices forbidden by God. Such individuals are to be escorted out of the assembly. They are to question their salvation and kept outside the Christian’s circle of influence. All of this with they prayerful hope that they might be made humble before God, be made sorrowful over their sin, and be made hungry for reconciliation with their God and their Christian brothers. Yes, judging wrongly and hypocritically is that which the Pharisees did and that which Christ opposed. However, judging rightly is that which all Christians must do; it is a requirement of any who would walk in improving worship and gradual victory.
Joseph A. Franks IV is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is Pastor of Palmetto Hills Presbyterian Church in Simpsonville, South Carolina. This article first appeared on his blog, and is used with permission.